Monday, March 20, 2006

Tyson and Smithfield Drooling over Untapped Meat Profits Abroad

I just finished writing a long chapter about the giant meatpacking corporations Tyson and Smithfield for the new book. I learned a lot researching the chapter. Learned a lot about why the meat industry loves North Carolina so much. Only 3.8% of NC workers are unionized, the lowest percentage in the industry. So NC provides cheap labor. We also have the highest rate of increase in the numbers of immigrant residents, who are ideal employees for the dangerous meatpacking industry, from the corporate perspective. Between 1990 and 2000, NC has seen an increase of 273% in the numbers of immigrants who settle here. Most are Latino.

The Smithfield slaughterhouse in Tar Heel NC is the world's largest meatpacking plant for hogs, processing 32,000 hogs per day. More than half of the 6,000 employees at the Smithfield slaughterhouse are Latinos, many undocumented. When immigrant workers object to speeding up the processing line, because it increases the risk of injury from the sawblades, they're just threatened with deportation. Or fired. Many can't speak English, and no one wants to be deported, so no one complains.

The story with Tyson is similar - it'll all be in our new book, with details. Tyson is the world's largest poultry producer, raking in an astounding $26 billion a year in revenue.

Here's the really scary part. The president of Smithfield says he has plans to make Poland "the Iowa of Europe." (Iowa is the only state in the US that has more hogs than North Carolina.) And John Tyson, CEO of Tyson, said in 2005 that Tyson sees the expanding market for meat in China as the source of Tyson's profits in coming years. They've saturated the US market, now they're exporting the factory farm model abroad. Between the two of them, Smithfield and Tyson already have factory farms up and running in more than a dozen countries.

China, the world's most populous nation (1.3 billion people, compared to our 298 million), already has 14,000 factory farms. But only 15% of their meat is coming from factory farms. So China is a field waiting to be plowed by the likes of Smithfield and Tyson. So much to plunder....they're drooling at the prospect of mo mo money for their stockholders and executives. They're going after the developing nations, where, you guessed it, labor is cheap and non-unionized, and environmental laws that might impede waste disposal are slack. Where do the animals' rights fit into this scenario? At the very very bottom.

What's to be done? Tell other people what you know. Write a letter for the editorial page of your newspaper. Write letters to the executives of Smithfield and Tyson. At the very least, don't buy Tyson or Smithfield products at the grocery. Although the other giant poultry producers, Perdue, Pilgrims Pride, GoldKist, are all up to the same thing. The ultimate solution is for all of us to avoid buying products from these factory farming corporations. Eat plant-based foods. If you do eat animal products, buy them from local providers who use humane and sustainable methods. Check or for help in locating pastured animal products in your area. Or ask at your local natural foods store or farmers market. In North Carolina, contact Carolina Farm Stewardship Association at In Georgia, contact Georgia Organics at for help in finding responsible providers.

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